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Tsunami Destroys Hilo

Updated on May 1, 2019
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FTank lives on the Big Island of Hawaii and loves to explore the island wonders.

Downtown Hilo

This calm and peaceful downtown was once totally destroyed by the forces of huge tidal waves that came on shore in this area. Tidal waves caused destruction and loss of life not once but twice in Hilo, Hawaii.
This calm and peaceful downtown was once totally destroyed by the forces of huge tidal waves that came on shore in this area. Tidal waves caused destruction and loss of life not once but twice in Hilo, Hawaii.

Tsunami Destroys Hilo

On April 1st, 1946 an earthquake occurred off the coast of Alaska in the Aleutian Islands at 12:29 GMT. The quake was originally rated as 8.6 on the Richter scale.. As a result of this quake, a huge series of tidal waves was sent southward along the north and south American coast and was felt as far away as Australia. But nowhere was the devastation more intense than in the Hawaiian Islands.

Just 4.5 hours after the quake occurred, deadly tidal waves of over 100 feet hit the north shore of Kauai causing extensive damage. The waves continued southward and reached the coast of the unsuspecting Big Island less than a half hour after this. The half-moon shape of Hilo Bay only intensified the waves as they came on shore destroying all of the buildings on the main street of the town. The houses were knocked off of their foundations and pushed back onto other houses in the town. At least 6-7 waves pounded the island at intervals of 15-20 minutes. At the end of it all, 159 people were dead along the Big Island coast from this deadly tidal wave. In 1948, public outcry over the destruction of the town and the loss of life of many residents brought about the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to alert islanders of any danger approaching them.

The powerful waves of the tsunami also struck the coastal town of Laupahoehoe, located northward on the Hamakua Coast approximately 26 miles north of Hilo. Because the town was located at sea level, the devastating tsunami swept through the town and 21 people, many of them school children, were swept out to sea and lost their lives when the school was destroyed. After the town was destroyed, it was relocated on higher ground where it is found today. A memorial was built on the former town site to commemorate the loss of life suffered that April 1st day and the town site is now a public park.

On May 23, 1960, the sirens again signaled tidal wave danger to Hilo residents. This time, a 9.5 magnitude earthquake that had occurred off of the coast of Chili sent huge waves back into Hilo bay. Although the sirens had warned of the eminent danger, 61 people still lost their lives in the same area as giant tidal waves again rushed ashore. The crescent shape of Hilo bay served as a basin for the waves and amplified their height as they crashed onto the shoreline.

Today, the downtown area of Hilo has been re-built. Few buildings remain that survived the catastrophic events of those two tidal waves that came crashing on shore. On Kamehameha Avenue you can tour the Pacific Tsunami Museum which has many pictures and stories from survivors to help visitors learn more abut the tsunamis which have devastated much of the east coast of the Big Island of Hawaii over the last 100 years. General admission for the museum is $8.00 for adults, $7.00 for seniors and $4.00 for children between the ages of 6-17. Children under the age of 6 are free.

Living in Hilo

Knowing that multiple Tsunami's have hit the Hilo area in the past, would you be comfortable living in this city?

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© 2009 ftank


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